Trade and the Convergence with Emerging Technologies

We explore synthetic biology from the perspective of existing trade rules. Synthetic biology creates new physical, chemical and biological entities in many sectors of economic activity, it also raises the question of how TBT, SPS, GATT and GATS will be able to accommodate the newly fashioned tradable goods and services.

Combining the insights from this new emerging technology and those gained from biotechnology and nanotechnology in the past, we aim at advancing approaches for the design of international trade regulation.


While literature abounds on the bioeconomy and synthetic biology’s industrial and environmental applications, an international economic law perspective beyond the usual national concerns of safety, bioterrorism, and unfair monopolies based on intellectual property rights remains to be investigated.


A safe assumption is that if the health, safety, and environmental risks presented by emerging technologies such as synthetic biology cannot be controlled, and cultural and social values are not protected, these technologies will be inhibited in their development. Legal and regulatory foresight and oversight are necessary conditions for our globalised and high-density technology society.


We recognise that synthetic biology is a general purpose technology with cross-cutting and deep restructuring potential for industry, and have observed that it also shows at least two other characteristics that distinguish it from its predecessors (biotechnology, nanotechnology). First, the distinction between what is part of nature and what is artificial is practically eliminated when synthetic biology is used to bring back an extinct species. Second, the backlash from the appropriation frenzy through patents in biotechnology is being demonstrably felt with the emergence of open databases containing the building blocks necessary for experimentation and commercialisation of synthetic biology products. Both of these aspects are relevant when considering regulatory issues in general, and international trade in particular.


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